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What’s the Cost for People to Pet Sedated Lions at a Zoo?

What’s the Cost for People to Pet Sedated Lions at a Zoo?

The Lujan Zoo outside Buenos Aires in Argentina provides what it bills as a “unique interacting experience.” Visitors are able to get really, really close to the animals, by petting, feeding or riding full-grown tigers, lions and brown bears. Some of the animals roam freely while visitors are allowed into others’ cages, under a zookeepers’ guidance.

According to International Business Times, the Lujan Zoo says that the animals are fed prior to interacting with visitors “so they won’t feel hungry when a human is inside their cage” and that they are raised along with domestic dogs so they learn “boundaries.” Videos and photos posted online show visitors petting and sitting astride lions, while some other visitors watch rather warily.

Commentators on websites such as Trip Advisors note that the zoo grounds are “neglected” and “not really clean” and that the enclosures for the animals are small. Others say that zoo staff use “techniques,” including dangling meat in front of the animals or throwing water on their faces to get them to pose for photos and that the animals have “obviously” been sedated.

Claudio Nieva, the zoo’s general manager, scoffs at the criticism. In a 2009 Daily Mail article, he asserts that that Zoo Lujan is an ecological foundation (its website says it is a “fundacion ecological”) and that it takes in unwanted animals (including monkeys and birds illegally taken from the rainforest and abandoned) who would otherwise die. Nieva says that “it is not a coincidence, that anyone in all this [sic] years hasn’t been injured.” His response to concerns that the animals are sedated was that it would be impossible to sedate them “over and over because they would end up sick and finally dead.”

Not surprisingly, Will Travers, the head of a conservationist organization, the Born Free Foundation, was heavily critical of Zoo Lujan:

‘The zoo is, in my view, placing the lives of its visitors at great risk by encouraging them to have ‘close encounters’ with dangerous, potentially lethal, wild animals.

‘Anyone who has any knowledge of big cats will understand that they are wild animals and, as such, as unpredictable.’

In particular, Travers states that there’s a real danger to teaching people that petting big cats and other wild animals is all right.

The recent death of a 24-year-old intern, Dianna Hanson, at Cat Haven, a wildlife sanctuary in Dunlap, California, was already a tragic reminder that lions are predators whose instincts are to hunt and kill. Hanson was cleaning the cage of a male lion, Cous Cous, when he got out of a smaller pen and attacked her, breaking her neck. Hanson reportedly died quickly and Cous Cous, who was causing additional wounds to her body, was shot dead by a sheriff deputy.

As University of Minnesota ecologist Craig Packer says to National Geographic, lions “are big fluffy mammals with cute cubs and affectionate family relationships.” But while they are “relaxed” for much of the time, “it’s easy to forget that they react to meat with the reflexive instincts of a shark”; Packer points out that, ten years ago, Roy Horne (of Siegfried and Roy) was attacked and seriously injured by a tiger the two had trained for years.

Conservation scientist Luke Dollar explains a reason for the appeal of Zoo Lujan:

“We have this fascination [with dangerous animals such as lions] because of their potential lethality, but for some reason we still cross the line that should never be crossed. … Anthropomorphization is a dangerous thing. These are wild animals—this is not Simba from the Lion King.”

Dollar emphasizes that offering “love and respect” for lions and other wild animal is a great thing, “but it is truly folly [to think] that one can commune and be friends with them.”

Visitors to Zoo Lujan are making a decision to put themselves at risk, whatever the zoo’s confidence on its policies and its claims about its past record. Should such a zoo even be allowed to operate? Is not everyone’s safety — human visitors and staff and animal residents — being compromised?

Related Care2 Coverage

Young Elephants Stolen from Families Sold into Chinese Cages

Human Error Leaves Zookeeper, Tiger Dead in Germany

Tell Zoos To Stop Euthanizing Baby Animals: Take Action!

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Photo by Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr

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307 comments

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7:31PM PST on Nov 28, 2013

Tomas k, are you for real ,what ever you are on ,please keep it to your self what you said does not make sense lions sedated and they love this, if anything it is very dangerous to there well being its NOT NATURAL.....

8:32AM PST on Nov 28, 2013

Gracias por publicar.

11:03AM PDT on Jun 6, 2013

WRONG! WRONG!! SICK, DISGUSTING AND DID I MENTION WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!! WHAT THE HELL ARE THE OWNERS THINKING?? AH YES THINKING WITH THEIR WALLETS. ANYTHING FOR THE ALMIGHTY DOLLAR. PUTTING THESE ANIMALS THROUGH SUCH ABUSE AND RISKING THEIR LIVES AND THE LIVES OF SO MANY STUPID PEOPLE!! THE BIG CATS, BEARS AND SUCH ONLY ACT ON INSTINCT AND GIVING THEM DRUGS WILL NEVER MAKE THEM TOTALLY SAFE. IN THE END, IT IS THE POOR ANIMAL THAT TAKES THE BRUNT OF THE ABUSE AND IT IS HIS/HER LIFE ON THE LINE IF HE/SHE SO MUCH AS SCRATCHES A HUMAN. HOW FAIR IS THAT??? IT IS NOT THE ANIMALS FAULT!!! THEY DON'T BELONG IN TINY CAGES FOR OUR SICK AMUSEMENT!!! DOESN'T THIS JUST PISS YOU OFF!!! MAKE YOU WANT TO SCREAM OR BETTER YET, SLAP SOME OF THESE MONEY GRUBBING FOOLS FROM HERE INTO NEXT WEEK. BAD DOTTIE, I WOULDN'T REALLY DO THAT, BUT IT SURE DOES SOUND LIKE FUN! L.O.L.!!!!!

6:19AM PDT on Jun 5, 2013

thanks for sharing

1:42PM PDT on May 6, 2013

Again this is something that I can't get over I just don't know were I am going to keep finding room on this list of wrongs committed against innocent animal's by man,you know it will keep on going until there are no animal's left,i can't see it changing as man has made it clear time and time again that he just is not smart enough to stop wial he is ahead..I fell that man has betrayed everything that is innocent on the planet.For This I am saddened deeply.

5:59AM PDT on May 6, 2013

I've met some. They are pets and they do want to be pets. They love human hands all over them. Some of you can't feel love and hate those who do.

5:39AM PDT on May 6, 2013

That lion is acting quite normally. He's just enjoying being loved. Do you remember being loved, Sue?

1:01AM PDT on May 5, 2013

From what I just watched on-line about this "zoo" these animals ar not in a good situation. 37 acres for elephants, lions, tigers, bears, etc.

The video of people petting a lion almost made me cry. The cat is obviously sedated, he does not hardly move and his "roars" remind me of an animal waking from sedation.

This is sad and wrong. Not nearly enough space for these animals to live a natural life in captivity. Any time people use animals to make $$$ there will be abuse

10:01AM PDT on May 2, 2013

I don't think that any of the protests against this zoo are well-intentioned.

2:59PM PDT on Apr 28, 2013

Like others have said, keeping animals in zoos is brutal enough...sedating them for these disgusting photo-ops is even worse!

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